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Chanelle Ellaya

Chanelle Ellaya
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Chanelle Ellaya is the editor of Screen Africa. She completed her BA Journalism degree at the University of Johannesburg in 2011. While writing is her passion, she has a keen interest in the media in various capacities. Chanelle is an avid social media networker and a firm believer in the power of social and online networking. Between writing and tweeting, she finds time to feed her love for live music.

Director Speak: Daniel Snaddon

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Screen Africa chatted to Daniel Snaddon, founding director of the Cape Town International Animation Festival and director of Zog, Triggerfish’s latest BBC Christmas special with Magic Light Pictures…

WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW HAS THIS SHAPED YOU AS A DIRECTOR? 

Growing up in the transition era has made me an optimist and a believer in people. As a director, I like to be collaborative and to challenge my teams to come up with creative solutions on both the art and technical sides of our films. So far, they’ve only fuelled my belief!

WHY ANIMATION? WAS IT ALWAYS THE PLAN? 

In his book Starting Point, Hayao Miyazaki describes all animators as being nostalgic for a world that doesn’t exist, which really resonates with me. Plan-wise: I’ve always drawn, made little comics, films and video games, and when I was looking at what to study, I became really jealous of my friend when he told me he was going to do animation… so I followed the envy.

APART FROM ANIMATION, WHAT KIND OF CONTENT DO YOU ENJOY CREATING? 

My wife, Julia, and I are working on a kid’s book together. It’s about a young boy trying to figure out how to be a ‘manly-man.’

YOU RECENTLY DIRECTED ZOG – BASED ON THE BESTSELLING JULIA DONALDSON AND AXEL SCHEFFLER PICTURE BOOK – WHAT WAS THAT PROCESS LIKE? WHAT DREW YOU TO THIS STORY? 

Directing Zog was great fun, and surprisingly straightforward for Max (Lang) and myself. We are both story-board artists and managed to get a first pass of the film out in a couple of weeks, and then just built on that with the team, iteration by iteration.

At the heart of the book, there is a lovely and surprising relationship between the dragon and the girl, which I found charming. It also has a great message about being true to yourself in the face of the expectations of others, which I think is a great take-away for kids and adults alike.

WHAT ELEMENTS ARE CRUCIAL IN DEVELOPING A SUCCESSFUL ANIMATED FILM/SERIES FOR YOUNGER VIEWERS?

Young audiences can be quite brutal, and can smell condescension or someone who thinks they’re funny a mile away. To get something to connect, you need to be just as brutal with your film, and if the story is unclear, a joke isn’t getting a laugh or an emotional moment isn’t landing, you need to fix it.

HOW HAS THE LANDSCAPE CHANGED IN THE AFRICAN ANIMATION INDUSTRY OVER THE PAST FIVE YEARS?

Africa is currently being looked to as a source of inspiration. It’s still hard to do things in Africa, but we finally have the ear of the big studios and networks – and they want to see what our animation studios can do.

WHY DO YOU THINK AFRICAN ANIMATION IS CURRENTLY BOOMING AND TRAVELLING LIKE IT IS? WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THIS SUCCESS TO?

The current interest in African animation has been fuelled by a thirst for unique stories and voices. Whether this turns into a genuine boom or not will depend on us and whether we can create characters and stories that connect with world audiences.

AS THE FOUNDING DIRECTOR OF THE CTIAF, HOW DID YOU FIND THIS YEAR’S EVENT?

I was completely blown away! The quality of the talks, the meetings and conversations was world-class. Di and her team did an amazing job.

WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF EVENTS LIKE THE CTIAF TO THE AFRICAN ANIMATION INDUSTRY?

It connects us to the world and to each other and that, alone, makes it super important. We’re a collaborative medium; we can’t really thrive in isolation.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CAREER THUS FAR? 

Watching Zog with my nine-month-old, my wife and our parents at the UK premiere was pretty special.

ANY ADVICE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE WANTING TO PURSUE A CAREER IN ANIMATION?

Young people! Listen to me!!! Figure out what you WANT, and then figure out how to get it! Otherwise other people will tell you what they want from you, and you’ll spend your life giving it to them (because they have all the money).

WHAT NEXT FOR DANIEL SNADDON AS A DIRECTOR?

I’m currently directing another Christmas special for Magic Light Pictures and the BBC, based on Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s book, The Snail and the Whale. I’m also developing the feature film Kariba with Triggerfish, based on the graphic novel by Daniel and James Clarke.

Behind the scenes of Die Stropers (The Harvesters)

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Premiered under the Un Certain Regard banner at Cannes Film Festival 2018, Die Stropers (The Harvesters) is the directorial debut of Etienne Kallos, set in the flat farmlands of the central Free State province…

A tale of two foster brothers – enormously different – in a silent fight for power, The Harvesters is a moody, moving, brilliantly-shot Afrikaans and English language drama reminiscent of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. It’s a coming-of-age story of masculinity, explored within the realms of the Free State’s conservative Christian white-Afrikaner community.

“Director Etienne Kallos had the seeds of the idea for many years,” producer Thembisa Cochrane comments. “As a South African director, he had worked with some Afrikaans actors who came from a farming background and saw resonances of his own experience. Etienne got into his car and simply drove out to farms to explore further. He was warmly welcomed by Afrikaans farmers and the story emerged organically from there.”

While developing the story, Kallos – who also wrote the film – began to unpack ideas of masculinity in a heavily patriarchal culture “and the fractures in identity that can come from being a product of post-colonial South Africa,” says Cochrane. “It emerged as a Cain and Abel-type story, in which the spiritual and cultural fractures manifest as a fracture between two characters: two young men who are mirrors for and of each other.”

The film follows Janno (15), a young Afrikaner who feels out of place in his fiercely religious community, where young men are defined solely by their strength and masculinity. Though his body is well-developed due to working in the fields from a young age, Janno is different – he is guarded and emotionally frail, partially due to his emerging homosexual desires. One day his mother, Marie, takes in a boy named Pieter – a tough street orphan; the son of a prostitute and a drug addict. Marie asks Janno to bond with Pieter as his brother, but the two boys, different in every aspect, begin an on-going fight for power, heritage and parental love.

Casting

Brent Vermeulen (Janno) and Alex van Dyk (Pieter) were cast as the leads, delivering nuanced, tempered, vivid performances in their very first film roles. “Alex had never even been in a play,” explains Cochrane, who says that casting the two lead roles was one of the biggest challenges. “We couldn’t start too far in advance because the boys had to be in exactly the right physical and emotional space between childhood and adulthood. Then when we were finally greenlit, we faced the massive challenge of finding enough boys to audition, since it’s still a conservative culture and there are themes of sexuality in our film. The good news is that times are changing – a few years ago it would have been much harder to get Afrikaans boys in high school to sign up for this material, but we found many of them didn’t mind,” she comments.

Cochrane adds that the real challenge was getting into schools and getting permission from parents and principals to have the boys on the shoot: “It was always clear we wanted these roles to be played by authentically Afrikaans boys, and – on top of this – it was critical that the chemistry between them worked. We only found Alex two weeks before the shoot, which you can imagine was very stressful for everyone. Luckily, it worked and the performances are incredible and have been widely applauded.”

Vermeulen and van Dyk were supported in their preparation and on screen by the talents of seasoned local actors Juliana Venter (as Marie) and Morné Visser, who plays their father (named Jan).

Production

The Harvesters was shot in June 2017 in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State by Polish cinematographer Michal Englert, who – together with Kallos and production designer Barri Parvess – developed and flawlessly delivered the earthy yet hostile look and feel of the film, which – according to Cochrane – was inspired largely by the land itself.

“The physical presence of the land was always an important driver for Etienne and so the style he developed with cinematographer Michał Englert emerged from their preparation time together on our shoot locations,” Cochrane expands. “That landscape, in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State, with its koppies and striking flat-topped mountains, was the starting point. Etienne wanted to create the feeling that the landscape was more important, or more powerful, than the characters. In the film there is also a strong sense that God is watching. God, in many ways, is the land – and in the film questions are raised around duty to the land, and what duty means in order to be good. In some ways, Etienne wanted the camera and the music to be part of ‘God’s judgement’.”

Gear

With a very small budget and a very complex international financial setup, the crew were forced to make some innovative decisions when it came to gear. This included shooting a lot of the outdoor scenes with natural light. “We were lucky to have an extremely skilled South African gaffer and dedicated grips and lighting teams who were very small, but managed to make it work,” Cochrane explains.

The film was shot on the Arri Alexa XT, “as we felt it was a flexible and robust camera which could deliver the quality of image our cinematographer wanted and perform well in the remote conditions of our shoot,” she adds. The Alexa XT was paired with Zeiss Super Speed lenses, which were selected for their maximum flexibility with exposure conditions.

The aim was to be as small and mobile a unit as possible, shooting mainly handheld and using a tripod only when necessary. This meant that for a long time Kallos and his team tried to resist the use of a dolly, “but it became clear that some of the smooth, carefully composed and moving shots Etienne wanted would need heavier grips equipment,” says Cochrane. In the end they used both a Filmair Squirrel and Fisher 10 dolly.

Post-production

The Harvesters is an official co-production with four countries – South Africa (Spier Films), Greece (Heretic), France (Cinema Defacto) and Poland (Lava Films) – and thanks to its international partners, image and sound post-production were carried out in France and Greece. “On the shoot we had crew from Poland, France, Greece – these were very flexible artistic people who were used to the independent sector in their own countries and it was great to see them work with our South African crew, who get fewer opportunities to work in a less hierarchical way on smaller films for international film festivals,” Cochrane comments. The film’s score – percussion-heavy, utilising a traditional Japanese instrument to create sounds that mirrored the landscape – was composed by celebrated French composers Evgueni and Sacha Galperine, who were nominated for the Cannes Soundtrack Award for their work on The Harvesters.

Financing and festivals

Conceived as an art house film, financing the project took a few years: “We had a lot of European financial support, mainly the CNC in France, other public French funds, the Greek Film Centre, the Polish Film Institute and Eurimages,” says Cochrane. In South Africa, the KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission supported the film, “which we were incredibly grateful for and this really gave the film its home base,” she adds.

Pyramide International also supported from the very beginning and subsequently handled international sales of the film and distribution in France – where it has already achieved great success, going on to win the Grand Prix at the much-lauded Chéries-Chéris Film Festival. In South Africa, Indigenous Film Distribution released Die Stropers in local cinemas on 15 March.

The film has enjoyed a successful run on the international festival circuit, starting with its world premiere in the Cannes: Un Certain Regard section – where it received a standing ovation – and going on to play at festivals in Melbourne, São Paulo, Mumbai, Taipei and Morocco, to name a few. It also won the Rome Film Festival’s jury prize for Best First Film and has just had its North American premiere at the Miami Film Festival on 8 March.

Resonance

Applauded for its exploration of toxic masculinity, sexuality and cultural identity, Cochrane says that there is enough space in the film for viewers to generate their own meaning, and she hopes that local audiences will find resonance in the questions the film poses about masculinity, religion, sexuality, ownership of land and cultural identity.

“The themes in the film have a lot of universal relevance for both South African and international audiences. Questions of identity and culture are very much at the forefront of the conversation worldwide, so on the most basic level for South Africans this opens up a hard and nuanced question about the place of the white Afrikaner, but that question can be expanded more broadly for anyone who experiences fractured identity, anyone who feels they do not belong firmly to any place or people. There are other very universal themes in the film, too: the critical view of religion as a fortifying force in a loveless and unforgiving world; sexual confusion as a part of adolescence. We hope audiences will appreciate being challenged to respond to the film, and so far the experience has been that mostly people do have an emotional response and ask questions. That’s what we want,” she concludes.

Key crew:

Writer/ Director: Etienne Kallos

Producer: Etienne Kallos (Kallos Films), Thembisa Cochrane & Michael Auret (Spier Films), Konstantinos Kontovrakis & Giorgos Karnavas (Heretic), Mariusz Wlodarski (Lava Films), Tom Dercourt & Sophie Erbs (Cinema Defacto)

DoP: Michal Englert

Editor: Muriel Breton

Original Score: Evgueni & Sacha Galperine

Sound: Leandros Ntounis, Thomas Robert, Jean-Guy Veran

Avid helps HBO to innovate post-production for programme promotions

Avid, a leading technology provider that powers the media and entertainment industry, has announced that it is helping HBO to re-define the promotional content finishing workflows that serve all of the network’s distribution outlets.

HBO’s innovative approach includes unlimited on-demand licenses for Avid Media Composer nonlinear editing systems. It allows the network’s production engineering group to scale editing resources up and down on a moment’s notice to address end-user demand from marketing, sports, documentary and home entertainment to create their promotions and market their programming with greater agility and speed. HBO’s virtualised Media Composer deployment integrates with its Avid NEXIS® storage resources.

“Our production engineering group supports hundreds of clients who create promotions and packages to drive the success of HBO’s growing offerings, so we’ve established an efficient, on-demand resource that corresponds to the elastic needs of the operation,” said Stefan Petrat, senior vice president of Media Technology at HBO. “As needed, we can spin up our Media Composer seats and have hundreds of editors working on promotional pieces for all HBO distribution outlets. When that push is over, we can immediately spool down our excess systems.”

“HBO’s production engineering group is taking an inventive approach toward unlocking new gains in post-production performance, and Avid is very pleased to support their vision with the virtualisation of Media Composer,” said Jeff Rosica, CEO and president, Avid. “It’s exciting to see world-class customers like HBO successfully rethinking and reimagining the sheer scale of their workflows with Avid tools and solutions.”

Learn more by reading Avid’s customer story about HBO at https://www.avid.com/customer-stories/hbo.

Jenna Bass’s Flatland explores what it means to be a woman in South Africa today

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Female-led contemporary western Flatland sees three different but equally desperate South African women undertake a journey of self-discovery in the Karoo semi-desert.

When Natalie’s catastrophic wedding night leads to an accidental killing, she runs away from her husband and her small, rural town in South Africa’s Karoo region. Reuniting with her rebellious, heavily-pregnant best friend Poppie, the two young women escape together on horseback across the vast winter landscape. Lonely policewoman Captain Beauty Cuba, intent on proving the innocence of her long-lost fiancé who has been framed for Natalie’s crimes, is hot on their trail. The fate of these three desperate South African women will eventually converge “as they ride towards self-discovery in the face of the ever-present threat of violence – psychological as well as physical.”

A Female western

Flatland writer and director Jenna Cato Bass – director of the films Love the One You Love and High Fantasy, and co-writer of Rafiki – says that the desire to craft a female western grew out of her complicated long-time love of these films. Though she loved the genre, Bass says something was always missing for her: “My dad really loves westerns, and I watched a lot of them with him when I was getting into cinema. I started to really love them too, but at the same time I always felt something was missing. I later realised it was the lack of female characters – the John Waynes and Clint Eastwoods were just so far removed from me as a person.

“Women  have  just  as  much  right to be in the saddle, and I was sure  that  women  audiences  had  the same desires I had, as well as the spirit to act them out,” Bass continues. “If I wanted to make a western, I’d have to take a long, hard look at the western and ask myself what is it about this frequently racist, misogynistic genre that I want to hold onto? Maybe the same things that make South Africa such a perfect setting for the western are exactly what makes it so problematic. How different is our present from our colonial past? Maybe the rules of the western itself need to be broken. For me, the starting-point was three different women, on their own terms: a lovelorn policewoman, a pregnant teenager and a naive young bride, all of whom are trapped by circumstances, their environment and by their own misconceptions of what they must be.”

Nicole Fortuin, Faith Baloyi and Izel Bezuidenhout deliver strong, moving performances as the three lead characters – Natalie, Beauty and Poppie, respectively. Fortuin was the first cast member on board – “she stuck with us through years of financing and development,” says Bass. “I’d seen Izel Bezuidenhout in Dis Ek, Anna and was so impressed with her. She is magical on screen… And Faith was one of the last people we cast after quite a search to find Beauty and she’s also awesome. She has made the role totally her own in a way I’d always hoped.”

Financing

A real labour of love, Flatland has been a long time in the making. It all started in 2009 when Bass had the idea of setting a western in the Karoo. “At the time, I thought that would be relatively straightforward, but the more I worked on it, and added inspiration from my own life, and trips to Beaufort West, it grew into something totally different… and better, I think.”

The film was first introduced to the market at the 2012 Durban FilmMart (at treatment stage), where it picked up three of the five development awards on offer – “which helped kick-start active development on the project,” says Flatland producer David Horler of Proper Film.

In late-2012, development funding support was secured from the National Film & Video Foundation (NFVF) of South Africa, alongside a grant from the Worldview Broadcast Media Scheme. In 2014, Horler concluded a co-production deal with Iranian/German producer Roshanak Behesht Nedjad (who is known for her co-productions with underrepresented territories). “Later that year, the project was the recipient of a commitment to financing from Berlinale’s World Cinema Fund and secured intent for world-sales from The Match Factory,” he adds.

The year 2016 saw additional production support secured from the NFVF and the commencement of final casting and location scouting. In early 2017, intent was secured from the ZDF Das Kleine Fernsehspiel Co-production and Licensing scheme, and a world sales agreement was concluded with The Match Factory. In 2017, the film won support from the Hubert Bals Fund and Film Fund Luxembourg, as well as the attachment of Deal Productions and Unafilm as co-producers, “which enabled us to close financing and green-light the film for production in 2018,” says Horler.

Having completed its active development phase in 2014, Horler says that financing Flatland was “the single greatest reason it took so long to bring the film to life.”

“In many ways it was an unavoidable rollercoaster of success and disappointment… In the end though, it couldn’t have worked out better: having been backed by some of the leading film institutions worldwide with very few hard-equity stakeholders, enabling a simpler and unoppressive revenue recoupment stream once the film is distributed. We also created a solid distribution foundation through our partnership with industry-leading sales agency The Match Factory and our collaboration with Europe’s broadcasting giant, ZDF/Arte.”

Principle Photography

The film was shot in just over four weeks in the second quarter of 2018, at twenty-six locations in South Africa’s Western Cape province. Although set in the Karoo semi-desert, Horler says that most of the film could have been shot exclusively in Cape Town, but – “despite oppressive costs and out of respect to the authenticity of the story, as well as Jenna’s direct inspiration from specific places when writing the script” – the crew elected to shoot the majority of the film on-location, in and around the towns of Beaufort West and Leeu Gamka, as well as in Cape Town.

“Our first shot on day one [of filming] was the iconic sequence where Natalie and Poppie ride on horseback through the Karoo semi-desert in slow-motion,” comments Horler. “It was a remote and challenging location that ended up being one of our longest shoot days, setting the precedent for a gruelling and unforgiving schedule.”

Cinematography

Bass says that she wanted the two parallel stories of Beauty, and then Natalie and Poppie, to have very different feels in order to heighten the contrast between the characters. This, she says, resulted in “very different shot design for the two stories”, as well as a different colour palette for each: “We wanted Beauty’s story to feel static and considered, and Natalie and Poppie’s story to feel fidgety and observational.” These choices were largely determined by the characters in collaboration with the camera department – led by director of photography, Sarah Cunningham – and the art department, led by production designer Sara Hartinger.

Flatland was shot on the Arri Alexa Mini, which Horler says was chosen for multiple reasons, including its ease of use for data management and post-production workflow, “and the fact that Jenna is known for highly intimate and fluid composition in her films, which was made easier and more efficient to achieve by the camera’s light weight and small footprint”.

A large portion of the film takes place on the open road, with various driving sequences in cars, trucks and on horseback “threading together the multiple storylines unfolding across the Karoo,” adds Horler. “We wanted to achieve as much as possible in-camera with a very low-tech approach to maximise both the authenticity of the actors being able to drive or ride and the efficiency of our demanding schedule.” Horler says that the grips department – headed up by Nasmie Majiet of Grip This – were the “technical heroes” of the film for flawlessly delivering smart and creative tracking and rigging solutions that translated to some impressive, immersive sequences on screen.

Post-Production

The post workflow was shared across several companies and individual technicians in order to spread the workload and have multiple elements being undertaken at once. Post-production supervisor Stephen Abbott crafted a minutely-detailed schedule and workflow. He worked very closely with Bass and editor Jacques de Villiers before handing over the film for audio, colouring, VFX and finishing. “Refinery Cape Town was our backbone throughout the delivery process. They went well above and beyond their call of duty and without them, it would have been impossible to finish the film on time,” comments Horler. “We owe Lauren van Rensburg, Peta Synnot-Marzetti, Kyle Stroebel and Armien Baradien an enormous debt of gratitude for everything they and their teams have done for us.”

Audio post was split between Sound & Motion Studios in Cape Town and Johannesburg, as well as Philophon – based in Luxembourg – who assembled the final mix. Horler commends Simon Ratcliffe of Sound & Motion Studios, who “juggled various overlapping mixing sessions between three cities and, as usual, delivered refined, evocative and first-class sound, which was complimented by our original composition by Berlin-based DJ, Bao-Tran Tran.” The subtle use of VFX was led by Refinery alongside several freelance effects artists.

A Story That Breaks the Rules

Impressively, Flatland opened the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section in February this year. Horler says that it’s humbling to be recognised by Berlinale, who have been “incredibly supportive and nurturing of Jenna’s career over the years.”

“We hope to continue a successful festival run for the remainder of 2019, culminating in the film’s theatrical release and TV and digital broadcast later this year and in 2020,” he adds.

When asked about the film’s intended message, Bass says that – for her – there isn’t one specific message: “It’s more about offering people an experience that is different and surprising and from which they can take what they want.

“I hope people will fall in love with the characters, and be swept along by a story that breaks the rules and at the same time feels deeply familiar,” she concludes.

  • Chanelle Ellaya

Key Crew:

Director: Jenna Bass

Producer: David Horler

DoP: Sarah Cunningham

Production Designer: Sara Hartinger

Editor: Jacques de Villiers

Costume Designer: Chantell Lungiswa Joe

Casting: Belinda Kruger and Monique Murray du Plessis

7 things to know about Salesman – this week’s star in Trippin With Skhumba

In this week’s episode of the Showmax Original Trippin With Skhumba, the 2018 DStv Viewers’ Choice Award: Favourite Comedian winner and 2017 Comics’ Choice Comic of the Year visits Salesman’s childhood home in Mabopane township outside Pretoria – as well as the tavern that gave him his break, the stage he was sjambokked on, the stokvel he still gives money to, and the freeway he nearly died on…

Here are seven things you should know about Salesman, who won the Non-English Comic Award at the 2017 Comics’ Choice Awards:

#1. Salesman has been in eight car accidents

Salesman meets Skhumba at the freeway where he had his eighth car accident, when an oncoming car swerved onto his side of the road as he was driving to Monsterlus for a wedding. “I almost died on this road,” Salesman tells Skhumba. “It was bad…  All I could do was protect my face. As long as my tongue is safe because I need that for work.”

Salesman jokes that he must be a cat with nine lives. “This is where I lost my eighth life; I’m now left with my last one.”

Skhumba says that explains Salesman’s distinctive voice: ”Your accent dude. Your ‘meow’ thing… You sound like a cat.”

#2. Salesman’s real name is Ditshego, which means ‘laughter’

Skhumba doesn’t believe Salesman when he says that his real name is Ditshego, which means ‘laughter.’ But Salesman’s mom confirms the story. “It’s even on his ID,” she tells Skhumba. “His father named him Ditshego. He said the way he makes jokes he’ll make the whole world laugh.”

“And that’s happening now,” Skhumba says.

#3. Salesman was the fifth kid – and has three himself

Salesman has four older siblings. “According to the look of things, they were well off,” Salesman says. “But when I was born the wealth was depleted. The first four children depleted it and I’m the skinny one to show that things were bad.”

He has three children himself – Zainab, Sharifah and Magdi. When Skhumba asks why they’re not called Dipuo or Zinhle, Salesman explains that he’d converted to Islam then.

#4. Salesman converted to Islam and changed his name to Jafar Sabiq
Salesman converted to Islam after a year that included accidents two to six, and saw him lose his job and be declared medically unfit to work. “When things start looking bad… your praying becomes so sincere,” Salesman says. “The closest people who gave me the motivation of good behaviour were Muslims.”

When Skhumba teases him about changing his name to Jafar Sabiq, Salesman replies, “Wait ‘til you have problems; you just might be Mohammad next week.”

#5. Salesman is part of a stokvel

Salesman takes Skhumba to his stokvel, where he makes his contribution “so that I can save up for better things.” As Salesman puts it, “This is the mini insurance for us comedians.”

This has Skhumba in hysterics. “Salesman has a pocket book where they sign if he’s made payment or not. I’ve never seen anything like this. With all the money we’re making in the industry, this guy’s still part of a hundred-rand stokvel…”

#6. When Salesman started, vernacular comedy was rare

Salesman takes Skhumba to Koki’s Tavern, where he got his break as a comedian. “When I started in the industry, vernacular comedy wasn’t common,” he says. ‘Everybody would run to make English jokes so that they can also attract the corporate side.”

He says telling jokes in the rowdy bar was the best training. “You get to check the weight of your material because these people won’t lie to you… But if they love you, they will love you for real.”

And love him they did: when Salesman was nominated for the Audience Choice Award at the 2016 Comics’ Choice Awards, the tavern even offered free beer to people who voted for him often enough…

#7. Salesman once got sjambokked on stage for stealing a joke
Salesman takes Skhumba to Morula Resort, where Salesman was sjambokked by Roni Modimola for allegedly stealing his jokes. Salesman went straight to the police station to have Modimola arrested. “I went there crying,” he says. “I put Vicks on my eyes.”

Salesman denies he stole Roni’s jokes. “Maybe some of the jokes might have been similar but they weren’t presented in the same way.”

But he admits the incident pushed him to be more original. “Now that this had happened, people would be listening with the intent to hear if I’m not stealing anyone’s jokes. That was pressure to me, that whatever I come with, it’s a hundred percent me… And I think that opened the creative mind.”

Eighth annual Jozi Film Festival: call for submissions

The eighth annual Jozi Film Festival will take place from 3 to 6 October 2019 in venues around Johannesburg. The organisers are inviting submissions from filmmakers for consideration for this year’s festival.

“Having your work shown at the authentic Jozi Film Festival – Joburg’s longest running independent film festival – is a great opportunity for new and established filmmakers to reach a discerning, influential audience,” says festival founder, Lisa Henry. “Over the years we have shown several films that have gone on to achieve phenomenal commercial success – films like iNumber Number (now also a successful TV series), Dora’s Peace, Shepherds and Butchers, Whispering Truth to Power, The Black Mambas, Supa Modo and (one or two more?).”

The Discovery Channel’s Don’t Stop Wondering Award will be returning to the festival in 2019 for a third consecutive year: “Since the award was launched in 2017 we have seen close to 500 short films from across Africa, and we are delighted to be able to offer this opportunity once again,” says Henry.

This year’s prize from Discovery Channel will include a Canon XF-405 video camera with Singer Photographic camera accessories worth over $5,800 for the winner to use for their next filming project. More info here.

All submissions must be submitted via FilmFreeway.

Entries will be judged in the following categories:

  • Best South African Feature Film
  • Best International Feature Film
  • Best South African Documentary (long)
  • Best International Documentary (long)
  • Best South African Documentary (short)
  • Best International Documentary (short)
  • Best South African Short Fiction
  • Best International Short Fiction
  • Best South African Student Film
  • Best Director
  • Don’t Stop Wondering Award

Submissions close on 16 June 2019.

The Billy Monk Story: The true story of 60’s Cape Town icon and master photographer

The story of hard-living nightclub bouncer, Billy Monk, who became a celebrated photographer and was gunned down on route to his first exhibition, is coming to the big screen – shooting end 2019.

Billy was a larger-than-life character – diamond-diver, Woolworth’s model, safe-cracker, lobster fisherman, womanizer, nightclub bouncer and photographer extraordinaire. He and his mixed-race wife and children lived across the colour-bar in Apartheid South Africa, and Billy’s love of black jazz drove him into frequent clashes with the law. His tragic, violent end on the way to the first major exhibition of his work is a poignant counterpoint to his passionate life. Missed and mourned, his photographs of The Catacombs live on, showing life on the margins in the rough, dock-side club – the gays, the inter-racial couples, the prostitutes, the trans-sexuals, pimps and sailors.

This was a life lived in the shadows, and Billy Monk captured it.

The creative team behind the picture is director Michael Oblowitz, ex-Capetonian award-winning film maker who divides his time between SA and Los Angeles; producer David Pupkewitz, veteran producer ex-London now based back in South Africa; and writer Malcolm Kohll, returnee ex-Londoner, living in Cape Town.

In conversation with director Cindy Lee

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Star Films director Cindy Lee has, over the years, brought South African audiences some of their most-loved commercials. Most recently, she co-directed Showmax’s first original drama series, The Girl From St Agnes. The daughter of legendary casting director Moonyeenn Lee, Cindy chatted to Screen Africa about her love of storytelling…

WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW HAS IT SHAPED YOU AS A DIRECTOR?

Once upon a time – a long, long time ago – I started out as a copywriter at Hunt Lascaris. For 12 years I wrote commercials and slowly became that creative, the one whom directors hate, the one who sits right on top of them and tells them how they should be doing their job. The one who has to be kindly removed by a few words from the producer. When I realised that I wasn’t going to be kindly removed, I decided that I may as well try and direct myself.

WAS A CAREER IN TELEVISION/FILM PRODUCTION ALWAYS THE PLAN?

No, not in the beginning. Writing was always the plan. But I’m a television junkie. I love a good drama, a good mystery.  And slowly I realised that telling a story in 30 seconds just wasn’t going to satisfy my need for drama. I don’t do anything in small measures.

WHAT KIND OF CONTENT DO YOU ENJOY CREATING AND WHY?

I love a good story that moves people. A story that gives us hope, that makes us want to stand up and do something. That makes us talk and debate and question. I love stories about people who defy the odds and come out triumphant. I love sad stories with happy endings. It’s hard to get my hands on these kind of commercial boards. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of them out there.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE COMMERCIAL PROJECTS THAT YOU HAVE WORKED ON?

I directed a PSA commercial for Orange Babies that I really loved. It was beautiful, raw, compelling, heart-breaking and had an important message behind it – one that could make a difference to the lives of hundreds of people. I also love a commercial I directed for Capfin. It was about real people and how a small loan can change the course of their lives. I recently directed a commercial for Coke for the FIFA World Cup that was about a young boy who was desperate to find his final sticker for his Nigerian Super Eagles team collection. Again, it was moving and uplifting and made you warm all over.

APART FROM DIRECTING COMMERCIALS, YOU WERE THE SOCIAL MEDIA DIRECTOR ON THE CRITICALLY-ACCLAIMED TV SERIES BLACK MIRROR – WHAT EXACTLY DID THAT ENTAIL?

Joe Wright directed the episode entitled Nose Dive which was all about social media. There was a lot of social media involved in the story, like the character’s Facebook and Instagram pages, social media videos, etc., and they needed someone to conceptualise the pages and videos for the characters and then direct them. So not only did I get to work with Joe Wright, but I also got to work with Alice Eve, Bryce Dallas Howard, Alan Ritchson and Cherry Jones. And when I wasn’t working, I was on set watching these masters in action.

YOU HAVE RECENTLY CO-DIRECTED YOUR FIRST SERIES, THE GIRL FROM ST AGNES. WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR YOU IN MAKING THE TRANSITION FROM COMMERCIALS TO TV?

Actually, it’s my second series. I also directed three episodes of Sober Companion a couple of years ago. The biggest challenge has been time. There just isn’t enough of it. We are really spoilt with commercials. We get time to treat, time to craft, time for pre-prod, time to craft, time for post, time to craft. If I need four edit approvals to get it right, I get four edit approvals. Television in South Africa is very different. It’s a fledgling industry and hasn’t been mined yet. Because of that, budgets are tight, so we have to shoot very quickly – which means not enough time for pre-production, shooting or post-production. So less time to craft. But I feel that it’s changing. This production had more time than the last one. And Showmax knows what they’re doing and keeps pushing to get the best out of you. But it has taught me to think quicker, act quicker, think on my feet more – especially on set. I’m very proud of this show. I believe that even with time against us, we have produced a fantastic show that everyone will be talking about.

WHAT DREW YOU TO THE GIRL FROM ST AGNES?

First of all, it was a Showmax production so I was excited to do a local drama with them. I was also excited to work with Harriet Gavshon, the producer from Quizzical Pictures. Not only was the show close to her heart, but I knew I would learn a lot from working with her. So I knew that this time round, I would be in good hands. And then there was the script, which I thought was great. It had me from the moment I started reading it. I couldn’t wait to find out who did it. The scripts couldn’t come fast enough and that’s a good sign. The show doesn’t pull any punches. For once, it’s not your typical South African cookie-cutter content. It’s not afraid to discuss anything, to broach any subject. The themes are diverse, and the characters are damaged. In other words, they’re real. We have such talented actors and actresses in this country and I was excited to work with them on a project that lasted more than 30 seconds.

WHAT VALUE DO VOD & SVOD PLATFORMS, LIKE SHOWMAX, HOLD FOR THE AFRICAN FILM INDUSTRY AND EMERGING FILMMAKERS IN PARTICULAR?

I think it’s a very exciting time for the African film and television industry. Audiences can now dictate what they want to watch and are able to customise their viewing preferences and hopefully that is skewed towards local stories. Because the average attention span is down to eight seconds, we have to be able to produce material that is interesting enough to keep the audience hooked. And we need to adapt as we go. Because of the demand, emerging filmmakers will have more opportunities to tell their stories. But for [these platforms] to be as successful as [they are] in the rest of the world, we have to improve our internet speeds and get our data costs down.

WITH CONSUMERS OF ALL AGES FAVOURING BINGE-WATCHING ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS, WHERE DO YOU THINK THAT LEAVES TRADITIONAL BROADCAST MEDIA CHANNELS?

I don’t believe they’re in trouble just yet – only because of the debilitating data costs of digital streaming.  But audiences are tired of paying for things they don’t want to watch. And they don’t want to wait a whole week to watch the next episode. And they want to be able to watch whatever they want, when they want. So unless traditional broadcasters adapt and adapt quickly, by making their material more interesting, less regulated and more local – and by making their content on-demand, on all devices – they will soon be in trouble.

ANY PLANS TO DIRECT A FEATURE FILM IN THE NEAR FUTURE?

I would love to. I just need to find, or write, the story I want to tell. It will have to be something close to my heart. That kind of commitment isn’t a job, it’s a love affair. I have realised that the amount of time and energy that goes into doing long-form work means that you have to love what you’re doing, and want to tell that story with every ounce of your being or else you’ll never do it properly. It may even be the death of you.

WHAT NEXT FOR CINDY LEE THE DIRECTOR?

I would love to do more television. Especially with more money. More time. But in the meantime, I’m back to directing commercials. I have started an initiative called Shadow Us, which gives emerging female filmmakers the opportunity to shadow me, or anyone on the Star Films team, on a commercial I am directing. They shadow us from the second we go into production, right through to when we hand over final material. It’s a fantastic opportunity for women wanting to get into the industry. I want to get other directors to follow suit so that we can give more women more opportunities. The South African industry is still very male-dominated. And, as they say, #TimesUp.

IF YOU WEREN’T A FILMMAKER, YOU WOULD BE?

Very depressed.

The making of Spur’s ‘Together, Anything is Possible’ campaign with 99c and 7Films

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Spur Steak Ranches, Ninety9cents (99c) and 7Films recently collaborated to produce a proudly South African campaign about how working together in the face of adversity can make the impossible, possible.

Titled Together Anything is Possible, the campaign tells the emotional true story of how Team Spur’s mountain biker Alan Hatherly overcame adversity – with the support of his team – on his journey to achieving a World Championship win in Switzerland last year. Just eight months before the big event, Hatherly fell off his bike while participating in another race and broke both of his wrists.

Conceptualisation

Cape Town-based full-service, integrated advertising and communications agency, 99c, was appointed creative lead on the account, giving the agency the mammoth task of overseeing the campaign from conceptualisation right through to execution. The aim of the campaign was to strengthen the brand’s positioning as a unifying force within South Africa, as authentically as possible.

Morné Strydom, creative director at 99c, says that the story offers an inspiring and evocative reflection on Alan’s journey: “We wanted his story to bring to life how the Spur Schools Mountain Bike League has developed and supported children just like Alan in achieving their goals. And to further reiterate how, working courageously together in the face of adversity, anyone has the potential to make the most daunting of goals possible.”

Strydom adds that Spur is moving away from storytelling in the traditional advertising sense, and more towards reflecting the brand’s community impact “in an authentic and hyperreal manner.” With this in mind, the agency and the brand made a joint decision to utilise Spur’s sports sponsorships as the vehicle to convey this message.

“The crux of the concept came from the marriage of two elements – reflecting Spur’s passion for community upliftment through sport and its ethos of bringing people together,” Strydom comments. “This led us to the concept of how unity in the face of adversity can make the impossible, possible.”

Production

Keeping with the brand’s newly-implemented ‘authentic and hyperreal’ position on advertising, the commercial was shot documentary-style, using an assortment of action cameras including GoPros, Drones, Handi-cams and Arri cameras. “We used a lot of point of view and bird’s eye shots as well,” adds Strydom.

Director SJ Myeza shot with four very different cameras to depict the different eras and stages of Alan’s life and journey. Namely, a Super 8mm film camera, an HDV camera, a DSLR/GoPro and the Arri Alexa. “We recreated Alan’s challenges along his life journey, capturing the raw emotion of his World Championship victory. It was crucial for the story to feel authentic, and for us to tell his tale as unobtrusively as possible.”

Filmed over three days at various locations within the Western Cape, including Stellenbosch and Grabouw, the commercial includes actual footage from Spur Schools Mountain Bike League events – the Wines2Whales race and the Magaliesberg Spur MTB League Race – as well as shots from the 2018 World Championship.

Strydom says that the commercial will resonate with most South Africans because it demonstrates the process of overcoming adversity – “something which will resonate with people in general, and South Africans in particular.”

Sacha du Plessis, group head of marketing at the Spur Corporation, says: “Sport plays a pivotal role in bringing communities together and giving children early life skills; something that is entrenched in Spur’s DNA. We sponsor over 500 events annually in a multitude of sports across the country and are particularly proud of the 70 000 children that have participated in the Spur Schools MTB League over the last 10 years.”

Du Plessis adds, “We chose Alan’s inspiring story as it captures the essence of a very authentic message: that together, anything is possible. A message supported by our company since the inception of our brand by Allen Ambor in 1967.”

Strydom makes special mention of director SJ Myeza, who sadly passed away last month on 14 January. “This was the last job he completed. Our condolences go out to his friends and family. He was an incredible director and a talented man, and we are honoured to have had the opportunity to work with him.”

TECH CHECK

Cameras:

  • Arri Alexa
  • GoPro/DSLR
  • Super 8 film camera
  • HDV camera

KEY CREW

99c:

Executive creative director: Marius van Rensburg

Creative director: Morne Strydom

Agency TV producer: Stacey Hardy

Account director: Annika Slabbert

7 Films:

Director: SJ Myeza

Co-director: Lourens van Rensburg

Executive producer: Nina van Rensburg

Producer: Sasia Finlayson

DOP: Mike Ellis

Junior producer: Tinyiko Mvelase

Lighting the Way: Tobie Smuts

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Gaffer Tobie Smuts chats to Screen Africa about when he fell in love with lighting and how he got into the industry…

Tell us a bit about your background in lighting and how you got into it

From a very young age, I was fascinated with photography and my dad gave me his Pentax camera to use. I guess it all started there with seeing light for the first time while taking pictures. In high school I started playing in a band and I helped with the stage sound and setting-up of lights like all small bands do. Later I started assisting the sound and stage crew for extra cash. I helped in some big stage productions for Johnny Clegg, Ammapondo and the MACUFE shows. My love for lighting grew from there. I qualified as a construction electrician and wire man after school (my dad said I could go study film or anything else after that). I saw in the credits at the end of films that electricians could work in movies, and I was sold. I started working in theatre lighting part-time in between my apprenticeship, and that’s where I really fell in love with lighting. I did a lot of freelance theatre work for the Barnyard Theatre Group along the Garden Route. Then I left for the UK for a two-year working holiday and landed a great gig at the Edinburgh Arts Festival, where I ran two fringe stages for an American stage company called Rocket Productions. I came back to South Africa after two years, landed in Cape Town and phoned every production company I could find in the Yellow Pages for work. I called a gaffer just to try my luck and, to my surprise, he said to join them the next day. And the rest is history. I quickly moved from one job to the next, my photographic, stage and electrical background paved the way to where I’m today and I’m still on the journey. Always learning and improving.

Why lighting? What about it captured you?

I really enjoy the creative collaboration in achieving the vision of the cameraman and the mood of the film. I also enjoy working in a team and attacking problems on the fly creatively.

As a gaffer, what are you currently working on?

In summer we have an overflow of international and local commercials being shot in Cape Town. I also will be starting a small film with Out of Africa in February.

Do you prefer lighting on location or in studio, and why?

Both scenarios have their pro and cons. If I have to choose I’d say location shooting – it’s definitely more work but it is also more fun.

What is your current favourite piece of lighting equipment to use? Why?

I’d say The Gaffers Control from Belgium and DoPChoice products from Germany. With budget constraints, we are often forced to find innovative solutions in order to be more efficient. I run my sets mostly wirelessly and The Gaffers Control is amazing, as it controls most of my lights wirelessly. DoPChoice has also sped up the way we shape and control soft light, eliminating the need for a forest of stands and flags.

How else do limited budgets affect your department and how do you overcome this?

The only way is automation: you have to replace the guys you need to do the job with technology, unfortunately. Wireless technology like The Gaffers Control, Cinelex, Exalux, Lumen Radio and W-DMX.

What one lighting invention or trend of the past 10 years has, in your opinion, changed industry standards for the better?

By far it would be DoPChoice lightshaping tools. Additionally, I’d say the advent of LED technology has had the biggest effect. Pixel mapping and pixel fixtures have opened up possibilities never before explored, like LED screens for lighting effects and reflections.

What are the primary current trends of the studio lighting industry, and where do you see it heading?

LED fixtures, without a doubt, have helped budgets. They’ve also given the DoP instant control over his or her lighting rig. The wireless approach on set speeds up the process if you have a competent operator. Giving the DoP a Mini Desk, or tablet, to control their lights on-set next to his or her camera makes for a great working environment.

If there’s almost no budget for lighting on a production, what can you NOT do without?

I have an LED light that is IP52 (rain proof) called the EXALUX Wide Rock with a V-lock battery. It is wirelessly controlled from my phone, bi-colour and battery operational. And if there is really nothing, a Riffa 80 tungsten light.

What has been the highlight of your career in lighting to date?

To date it would be having the pleasure to work with DoP John Seal on Mad Max: Fury Road. I was next to him for 10 months and learned so much about telling the story with light.

What’s one piece of advice, practical or otherwise, that you would give to a newbie in the industry?

I think it would be attitude: have a humble, hungry and happy attitude. Always keep improving on yourself and your skills, and know that rejection is part of life.

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